Radiators have never been so cool

Your average radiator may heat your home, but it may not enhance it. Hester Lacey looks at the latest designs and finds the days of the grim, grey steel panel are long gone
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The Independent Online

There's a major, fundamental problem with radiators. They are ugly brutes, they take up loads of space and most homes need them - in every single room. So, what to do? Bog-standard steel panel radiators look grimly functional. You can hide them behind chi-chi perforated panels, which look marginally better than the radiators themselves, but soak up a lot of the heat. You can go for underfloor heating - a great option in many ways, but one that involves a certain amount of disruptive work on your floors. Or you can look for a beautiful radiator; one that doesn't resemble a - well, a radiator.

There's a major, fundamental problem with radiators. They are ugly brutes, they take up loads of space and most homes need them - in every single room. So, what to do? Bog-standard steel panel radiators look grimly functional. You can hide them behind chi-chi perforated panels, which look marginally better than the radiators themselves, but soak up a lot of the heat. You can go for underfloor heating - a great option in many ways, but one that involves a certain amount of disruptive work on your floors. Or you can look for a beautiful radiator; one that doesn't resemble a - well, a radiator.

Doug Seira is sales director of Radiating Style, a company that specialises in the "gosh, is that a radiator?" market. Radiating Style imports the best of European design, principally from Germany, France and Switzerland. These are radiators that tend to be cunningly disguised as stone sculptures (the Cinier range), architectural columns (the Nevada and Sahara) and quirky, modern works of art (the Welle S, which looks like a copper-etched panel, or the Sima, which looks like a sinuous steel tree branch).

The designs are simply flying out of the door, says Doug Seira. "With the more popular ranges, we can hardly get them in fast enough." He says that there is very little compromise between design and efficiency; a radiator that looks gorgeous can heat a room as effectively as a standard steel panel, particularly because homes these days tend to be well-insulated.

While many stylish rads are imports, Vogue UK is a British company that manufactures an extensive and elegant off-the-shelf range as well as offering a bespoke design service. "Radiator design can be as imaginative as you want and we can be as diverse as the client requires," says Peter Anthony, Vogue UK's technical sales manager. He says that the market is swinging towards much more modern styles. "Until 12 or 18 months ago, we were selling more traditional, ball-jointed products. But contemporary style is now flavour of the month; minimalistic products are selling well, as are more unique-looking products. Appearance and aesthetics are as important to the customer as price."

The key to radiator efficiency, explains Peter Anthony, is surface area. The bigger the hot surface, the more heat it throws out. This is why panel radiators have cornered the market for so long, even though they may not look that great. However, contemporary styles such as tubular radiators can have just as efficient an amount of surface area, he says. And if the most contemporary looks won't fit with the design of your home, there are plenty of retro styles that are encroaching on the panel radiator's territory; Vogue UK, for example, has a range that is based on the Art Deco look.

"Two of our current newer ranges are the Sequel and the Debut," says Peter Anthony. "The Sequel is a traditional column style, while the Debut is very European-looking and modern. They are fields apart but both are selling equally strongly; we can hardly keep up with demand." Both Radiating Style and Vogue started up 13 years ago, having spotted a promising gap in the market. These were the radiator dark ages, where the choice was steel panel ... or steel panel.

"My brother Hardip, who owns the company, has a background in building and decorating, and he recognised that people were spending lots of money on a new bathroom, but having to go for the white panel radiators," says Doug Seira of Radiating Style. Peter Anthony of Vogue UK agrees. "People were fed up with paying £5,000 for a bathroom and then having to compromise their design with a £90 steel panel radiator."

But long-established firms are also spotting a new opportunity. Stelrad was founded in the early 20th century and was one of the pioneering British central heating companies. They still make traditionally styled cast-iron column radiators, which fit perfectly into period interiors; but they have also moved on to modern tubular and ladder-style pieces. These new designs, says Paul Massey, managing director of Stelrad, don't necessarily look out of place in an older home. "My house is 550 years old and my wife is very keen on the vertical column styles. People are much more adventurous these days."

You don't have to spend thousands to get a state-of-the-art radiator - though you certainly can if your budget will stretch that far. A reconstituted stone Cinier model from Radiating Style would set you back around £2,000, but their Adelphi range, made of flat tubular steel, could cost as little as £116, depending on size. Happily for anyone who makes the investment in a top-of-the-range product, some of the ceramic and stone models simply plug in, so you can take them with you when you move house.

"You can pay £500 to £1,000 for this type of product," says Stelrad's Paul Massey. "But even in the low-cost sector, people who don't want standard panel radiators can buy a ladder rail for £70 to £100; they are very attractive." Peter Anthony of Vogue UK says that £400 to £600 is the average spend, though you can pay a lot less or a lot more; the company made a bespoke tubular radiator for the Sultan of Bahrain that measured 12 feet by six feet and cost £29,000 for each 24-carat-gold-plated rail.

Few of us are likely to seriously consider the gold-plated option. But for a really quirky central heating statement, you could buy Balu the bear from Radiating Style for a mere £2,500. He's made of polished stainless steel, and each Balu is hand-made and individually finished, so no two bears are the same. Can a radiator really be a work of art? Amazingly enough, perhaps it can.

Radiating Style: 08700 723428, www.radiatingstyle.com Stelrad: 0870 8498056, www.stelrad.com

Vogue UK: 01902 637330, www.vogue-uk.co.uk

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